During the press conference
The late arrival of vital equipment and vehicles from Europe has given Jordan Rally and WRC officials no other option but to cancel the first leg of timed special stages, scheduled for Thursday, and rearrange the ceremonial start in Jerash for Thursday evening.
The decision was taken following meetings at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre by Hilton on Wednesday and means that the fourth round of the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship will now be fought out over 14 special stages on Friday and Saturday, with the WRC competitors tackling the same route as teams taking part in the third round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
“The ship that has been bringing the equipment in has broken down twice en route from Europe but thankfully the vehicles are now on land and will be at the Dead Sea tonight (Wednesday),” said Randa Nabulsi, Clerk of the Course. “The decision to change the first day’s schedule was made collectively and we can all look forward to the ceremonial start tomorrow evening in Jerash and then the start of the rally on Friday morning.”
Citroën Total’s Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier and Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen arrive at the start of the shortened Jordan Rally with a win apiece under their belts after three rounds of this year’s world series. Hirvonen and Loeb share the lead in the Drivers’ Championship with 58 points and the Blue Oval holds a 10-point advantage over the French marque in the Manufacturers’ title race.
Both Hirvonen and Loeb have taken one win apiece on the previous two WRC events in the Hashemite Kingdom and Ogier arrives at the lowest point on earth fresh from taking his third ever WRC rally win in Portugal two weeks ago.
While Ogier and Hirvonen chase a maiden world title, Loeb will be bidding to win his 64th WRC rally and maintain his progress towards a staggering eighth successive World Championship title and a fourth successive Manufacturers’ award for Citroën.
The Jordanian gravel stages take few prisoners and it was vital that the leading crews were able to carry out a rescheduled reconnaissance of the winding roads, despite many having to use road cars and rental vehicles on this occasion.
While Loeb, Hirvonen and Ogier start as favourites to lead the way in Jordan, Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala lies third in the Drivers’ Championship and has the pace to beat and match the top trio, while Norway’s Petter Solberg has shown a remarkable turn of speed in his privately-run cars over the last couple of seasons and would dearly love to claim victory on his first WRC rally since the 2005 Wales Rally GB and move off his current unlucky total of 13 WRC wins.
The top runners will also face competition from M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team drivers Henning Solberg, Matthew Wilson and Mads Ostberg, former Finnish Formula One star Kimi Raikkonen, Team Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al-Qassimi and Argentina’s Federico Villagra. The Jordan Rally will also mark the first Middle East appearance of a Mini John Cooper Works S2000 in the hands of Brazilian driver Daniel Oliveira.
After being excluded from taking a slender victory in the SWRC category in Mexico for a technical infringement, Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah will be hoping to bounce back with a win in Jordan at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta S2000. But the Qatari needs to ensure that his car remains in one piece to enable him to score points in the MERC event that also runs on Friday and Saturday.
Al-Attiyah faces fierce competition at the Dead Sea from Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa, Estonian Karl Kruuda (Skoda), Germany’s Hermann Gassner Junior (Skoda), Norwegian Eyvind Brynildsen (Skoda), Hungary’s Frigyes Tuban (Ford) and Andorra’s Albert Llovera (Fiat). Jordan’s Ammar Hijazi lies third in the MERC series and will represent the host nation in his Skoda Fabia S2000 at the rear of the P3 field.
Thursday’s revised schedule will include pre-event scrutineering, a revised session for the shakedown test, the official FIA pre-event press conference and the ceremonial start at Jerash from 17.30hrs. Friday’s and Saturday’s schedules will run as per normal.